5 soldiers and veterans told us why they pledged to protect a young, scared Muslim girl.

For the past two weeks, veterans and active military men and women from around the world have been posting photos of themselves on social media with the hashtag #iwillprotectyou.

The campaign, which began with a single Facebook post from Army veteran Kerri Peek, was launched in support of Sofia Yassini, an 8-year-old Muslim-American girl from Texas, who — after watching Donald Trump on TV call for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. — got scared that the military was going to come and kick her and her family out of the country.


"It was the first time that it really drove home to me that we’re in a dangerous place right now," Sofia's mother Melissa Yassini — who works with the Islamic Association of North Texas — told Upworthy.

Since Peek's hashtag went viral, hundreds of veterans and active duty military members have contacted the Yassinis to express their support, according to Melissa.

Upworthy contacted five of them and asked them why they chose to reach out to Sofia.

Here's what they told us, in their own words (many of those who are currently serving noted that they are speaking for themselves only, and not the U.S. military):

Sgt. Amanda Hils

"The idea that a child would be scared in our own [country], of our own military, is not something I'm comfortable with," Hils told Upworthy.


Hils, who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011-12, recalled feeling heartbroken that any American child would view her fellow service members as a threat. While many veterans and active military men and women wrote messages, Hils felt it was important to show Sofia what it looks like to have a woman in uniform looking out for her.

"If she's able to put faces to that sentiment, I think that's great."

Above all else, she believes speaking out was the right — and necessary — thing to do, and that the man in charge would agree.

"At the very least, I'm echoing the sentiments of our commander-in-chief. He's made it very clear: Muslims are not our enemy."

Sherman Hardy

"The more fear grows, and the stronger it gets, the easier it is to overshadow everything," Hardy, an Air Force veteran who served as a military policeman in Wyoming and Korea, told Upworthy.


According to Hardy, growing up African-American left him all-too-familiar with how harmful — and deeply, emotionally wounding — some stereotypes can be and how it can often be difficult not to carry them through life. The notion that Muslims are dangerous — and that non-Muslims should fear them — hits Hardy the same way.

"Once you're labeled something, you begin to think, 'OK, is there any truth to this?' You have to question yourself, and be stronger than that, and know, 'OK, that's not who I am.'"

That's why, for Hardy, the decision to support Sofia and her mom is not just an obligation that comes along with having served.

"I think it's an American duty," he said.

Lt. Cmdr. Montel Williams (retired)

"Were anyone to try to force your daughter, an American citizen, to leave this country on the basis of her faith, my oath would require me to act," the talk show host wrote on Facebook.

Unbeknownst to many who watch him on TV, Williams served 22 years between the Marines and the Navy — retiring with the rank of lieutenant commander — and remains an active, vocal supporter of veterans' causes to this day.

Yes, that's Montel Williams. Photo via Montel Williams/Facebook., used with permission.

"Members of the military aren't given a choice who they protect, of what faith, what race, what sexual orientation, whatever," Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for Williams told Upworthy.

According to Franks, Williams is heavily involved with a campaign to secure the release of Amir Hekmati — an American citizen currently being held in Iran — and believes anti-Muslim bigotry from Donald Trump and others shows the kind of distrust that makes progress on such issues difficult.

"We're not going to solve a whole lot of problems by alienating people in the Muslim community," Franks said.

Patrick Brandt

"No one will be coming for you, so long as I breathe," Brandt, a former paratrooper who served two tours in Iraq, wrote on Facebook.


Photo by Patrick Brandt/Facebook, used with permission.

In addition to showing Sofia support, Brandt was moved to post #iwillprotectyou to help rebuke the Islamophobic sentiments that he believes are distressingly common among some of his fellow veterans.

"I'm not saying all vets are represented in that group, maybe not even most of them," Brandt told Upworthy, "But [that] crowd is certainly the loudest on social media it seems to me."

The message Brandt hopes to send his comrades-in-arms?

"I want them to know that I see the Islamophobic movements that are happening in our nation are in direct conflict with the ideals of USA," Brandt told Upworthy. "Not only will I physically defend my brothers and sisters if it comes down to that, but I will proactively step up and be a voice of compassion to my peers."

Lt. Cristina Trecate

"When you're eight years old, that shouldn't be something you're scared about," Trecate told Upworthy. "You should probably be scared about when your crayon breaks, what color you're going to use next, not being kicked out of your home."


Trecate enlisted in the New Jersey National Guard at 19 and spent her early service as a truck driver before heading to college and receiving an officer's commission. Now a field artillery officer in the Pennsylvania National Guard, she emphasized that her duty is to protect all Americans.

"I would just want her to know that she shouldn't be afraid," Trecate said. "She can feel safe at night, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people, clearly, who are willing to protect her and be there for her and defend her."

More than anything, Trecate wants Sofia to know that she'll never be kicked out of her home, no matter what.

"None of us are going to let that happen."

Melissa told Upworthy she feels honored a campaign her daughter inspired has touched so many people, and she has made it a point to respond to as many as she can.

"I'm always a believer that love wins over evil and hate, and it does every time," Melissa said.

For Melissa, the best evidence is that Sofia has gone back to being a normal 8-year-old girl.

"One day she just said, 'Mommy, I'm not worried anymore,'" Melissa said.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Images via YouTube and Takahiro Kyono

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."